Why Your Kid Needs a Custodial Roth IRA, and How To Set It Up

Roth IRAs for kids are a great retirement tool, because children have decades for their contributions to grow tax-free, and contributions can be withdrawn tax-free and penalty-free at any time.
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Nerdy takeaways
  • Roth IRAs are ideal for kids, because children have decades for their contributions to grow tax-free and contributions can be withdrawn tax and penalty-free.

  • There are no age limits for custodial Roth IRAs, but kids must have earned income and obey contribution limits.

  • Roth IRA providers typically require an adult to open and manage a custodial Roth IRA on behalf of a minor.

What is a custodial Roth IRA?

A custodial Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged retirement account that is owned by a minor, but controlled (and funded) by an adult custodian until the minor reaches legal adulthood. It’s very similar to a typical Roth IRA, but because it’s intended for children, the account offers some flexibility too: Contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn tax- and penalty-free at any time.

» Want to skip ahead? See the best custodial Roth IRA providers

Custodial Roth IRA rules

There's no age limit. Even babies can contribute to a Roth IRA: The hurdle to opening this account is about earned income, not age.

The child must have earned income. If a kid has earned income, they can contribute to a Roth IRA. Earned income is defined by the IRS as taxable income and wages — money earned from a W-2 job, or from self-employment gigs such as babysitting or dog walking. (If you want to contribute to your child's Roth IRA or match your child's contributions, that's fine as long as they have at least as much earned income as the total contribution amount.)

There are contribution limits. The Roth IRA contribution limit is $7,000 in 2024 ($8,000 if age 50 or older) or the total of earned income for the year, whichever is less. If a child earns $2,000 babysitting, they can contribute up to $2,000 to a Roth IRA.

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How to open a custodial Roth IRA for kids

Your child’s income is what makes them eligible for the Roth IRA, but a parent or other adult will have to help open, and then manage, the account. Many Roth IRA providers don't offer custodial Roth accounts, but some do. When choosing a provider, look at the fund fees or management fees to help pick the best one for your child.

You can set up an account online. You'll need to provide Social Security numbers for you and your child, birthdates and other personal information.

» Check out our top picks for the best Roth IRA accounts

5 reasons why a Roth IRA can be right for minors

Now that you know whether your kids can have a Roth IRA, you might be wondering if they should. Aside from the momentum of investing early, there are several reasons why a Roth IRA in particular can be a good choice for children:

1. Contributions can be withdrawn at any time

Retirement accounts are known sticklers about distributions; many charge a 10% penalty on money taken out before age 59½. That’s tough on kids, who have years to go before reaching retirement age.

But a Roth IRA is different. The money contributed to the account can be withdrawn at any time and used for anything from a toy car to a first real car.

That flexibility is balanced by stricter rules for the Roth IRA account’s earnings, or the return on contributions that are invested. Distributions of investment earnings may be taxed as income, penalized with a 10% early distribution tax or both.

Those two rules make the Roth IRA a nice middle ground between kids who want easy access to their cash and parents who want to make sure some of that cash is saved for the future.

» Get the full details on Roth IRA early withdrawals

2. More time means more growth

There’s a fun phenomenon called compound interest that works like this: Given time, invested money earns more money. Some adults have 30 or 40 years until retirement once they start investing; a kid who starts earlier has the benefit of much more. If your kids leave their money in the Roth IRA until retirement, they could be looking at 50 or more years of investment growth, completely tax-free.

Is waiting that long a hard sell? Maybe mention that a one-time contribution of $7,000 in a Roth IRA — with no additional contributions at all — would grow to about $139,550 in 50 years (assuming a 6% investment return and monthly compounding).

3. Investing can trump saving over the long term

That type of growth may not happen in a plain savings account, which is the more traditional choice for kids because it’s flexible and doesn’t require earned income. Unlike in a Roth IRA, birthday money is welcome in a savings account.

But a Roth IRA for kids allows your children to choose investments, which, over the long term, can lead to the kind of growth described above. There are trade-offs, of course: Most notably, your kids could lose the money they invest in a Roth IRA, though history tells us that’s unlikely to happen if they stick to a diversified portfolio over a long period of time.

4. The tax advantages are prime for kids

The Roth IRA works like this: Because there’s no tax break for putting money into the account, qualified distributions in retirement are not taxed. All that growth we keep talking about is earned completely tax-free if your kid follows the rules for distributions.

The Roth’s tax treatment is especially valuable when your time horizon is long and your current tax rate is low, and both of those are true for children. In fact, the earnings of most kids are so low that they pay little to no income taxes, meaning they avoid taxes on contributions, too.

5. The money can be used for more than retirement

Yes, a Roth IRA is a retirement account. The ideal goal is to sit on the account and allow it to accumulate a nice pot of money over time. But it’s worth pointing out that a Roth IRA isn’t just a retirement account.

Again, contributions can be pulled out any time, for any reason. But there are also a couple of loopholes that can get your kid access to the investment earnings before age 59½.

  • After the Roth IRA has been funded for five years, your child can take out up to $10,000 in earnings to buy a first home, tax- and penalty-free.

  • Roth IRA earnings can be used for qualified education expenses, such as college tuition. Earnings distributed will be taxed as income, but there will be no penalty.

Best custodial Roth IRAs

Of the online brokers that NerdWallet reviews, the following currently offer custodial Roth IRAs.

How to set up

Learn more

E*Trade

Setup available online.

Fidelity

Setup available online.

Charles Schwab

Setup available online.

Vanguard

Setup available online.

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